Monday, August 9, 2010
"After today, you should be able to eat something more than soup." Simra met Lakhoni's eyes briefly.
Lakhoni grunted. He could nod now without feeling like he stood upon a dizzying cliff. Most of the aches in his body had slowly, so slowly!, dissipated over the last two weeks. The fever and chills were gone too. But his muscles felt unused. He wondered if he would remember how to walk.
Two weeks of lying on his back, broken only by the few moments it took Simra's father, Neas, to help him move so the sleeping mat and blankets he used could be changed. Two weeks! I think. I might have lost track of a few days.
Simra's dark brown eyes met his again. A faint smile touched the corners of her lips. "Which I'm sure pleases you to no end."
Lakhoni forced a smile, swallowing the first sip of hot soup. Had he ever thought this concoction tasted good?
"How's the voice?"
Fear flooded Lakhoni. He had pushed the worries away, but they returned in force with her question. He felt moisture come to his eyes, but willed it away. He opened his mouth. Come on, now. Just work! He tried to form some words, tried to tell her he was getting better. All that came out was a high-pitched sound of air being forced through his throat underscored by small grunts.
"No." Simra's hand touched his shoulder, staying there for a long moment. "It's okay. Father says it will heal. Don't push it too hard."
They quickly found their rhythm and the clay bowl Simra held emptied. "At least we can get that down quickly, without you interrupting and trying to regale me with tales of your adventures." Lakhoni heard the joke in her tone and saw the sympathy in her eyes. "I really don't care where you came from or how you got so sick. I have no questions whatsoever as to what would make you travel in the middle of winter."
Lakhoni was briefly grateful that he had no voice. He was unsure of how he would explain. At least I have time to create a good story. He smiled at Simra, this time it was less forced. Aside from her and Neas, he had no contact with anyone else. It seemed their village had decided he was a problem for Neas and his daughter, so there was no need to visit the strange boy who had emerged from the wilderness of winter.
"And I really have no reason to ask you about the horrible scars on your head and ribs." As Lakhoni watched, Simra seemed to settle more, her shoulders seeming to relax as she adjusted her position so she was sitting on the dirt floor next to him, her knees tucked slightly under her and to the side. Her tone softened as she continued, her voice wistful, and her eyes unfocused. "You're the only boy in the village who hasn't asked me to marry him."
Lakhoni snorted in laughter. She looked down, seemed to realize he had been listening, and burst out laughing too. After a moment, Lakhoni braced himself on his elbows and levered himself upwards. Simra helped him sit up and move to lean against the furry pelt that hung from the wall near his sleeping mat. When she had helped him before, her strong hands on the bare skin of his chest, he had felt awkward. Now he was used to it. Making sure the blanket didn't slide down too far, he settled backward. He nodded his thanks, looking around the hut that had been his home for two weeks. It seemed this village had extra huts to go around; nobody else seemed to sleep here.
The silence that settled between him and Simra might have been awkward a week ago, but now it felt comfortable. Minutes passed as they sat there, his eyes on the small fire that kept the hut warm.
"You must be bored."
Lakhoni smiled, nodding.
"Even with the stories I tell you, spending all day in here must be awful."
"Or maybe the stories are the worst part?"
He had known her two weeks, but he felt like he knew her better than he had known anybody, save for Lamorun. Being only able to listen and watch, he felt himself perceiving things about her from the way she held herself or said something. Like now. Simra was joking, but he could tell she sincerely worried that he didn’t enjoy her company. She seemed to doubt herself at the strangest of times.
But she was smart and had strong opinions about things. She seemed totally confident in her opinions of others and the world around her, but when it came to herself, Lakhoni had learned that she was less sure. He didn't understand it. Simra was easily the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She could cook, hold a conversation; she had talked about going hunting with her father. How could anyone so nearly perfect doubt themselves?
Lakhoni made no move to answer her half joking, half doubting question. He let the moment draw out, then caught her eyes and smiled. He shook his head.
"You're not very nice, you know," Simra said, jokingly disgusted with him.
He shrugged again. He mouthed the word, "More," raising his brows.
She seemed to have no trouble interpreting his meaning. "Okay." Her brow furrowed as she thought. "Myth, legend, truth or a little of both?"
Lakhoni held up two fingers.
"Both. Alright. You've probably heard this before, but since you can't do anything to stop me, I will go ahead and tell it anyway."
Lakhoni snorted. His throat didn't hurt so much anymore beyond a dull ache. He didn't understand why he couldn't talk. He wanted to trust Neas that his voice would return, but when Neas said that he couldn't tell what was wrong, it was hard to believe.
"Hundreds of years ago, maybe thousands," Simra began. "The First Fathers escaped a wicked land across the seas. A land peopled by sorcerers and witches, assassins and thieves."
What if I never speak again? How will I find Alronna and rescue her? How will I get to the king? The cadence of Simra's voice sounded like she had told this story before; almost as if it were a story passed down, word-for-word, among her people.
"The First Fathers were four brothers who married four sisters. They were led by the Great Spirit to gather righteous family and friends to them and journey through the wilderness until they could find a land of safety and prosperity."
Lakhoni knew the story of the First Fathers, but the way Simra told it was different. It was like a painted song, with her voice the brush that created pictures of an ancient family with a divine destiny to fulfill.
"Although they were led by the Great Spirit, the four brothers were not united. The two older, upon whom the rights and privileges of rule had been conferred by their father, did all in their power to complete their journey, while the two younger brothers sought dominion over the people they were leading to an unknown destiny." Simra's eyes had grown unfocused as she spoke.
Lakhoni wondered if she was seeing the small group of ancient people.
"They built ships and sailed across a wild ocean, guided by a tool of ancient wisdom and wonder. This Guide was said to be a gift from the Great Spirit. It was a golden ball, shaped like a human skull, with two holes where eyes would have been. Instead of eyes, there were magnificent, clear gemstones. When the people followed after evil, the gemstones grew cloudy and red. But when the people were good and righteous, the gemstones stayed clear." Simra drew in a slow breath before continuing.
"The First Fathers took the Guide from the treasury of the wicked king of the land they lived in. Using the Guide, they found their way through the wilderness to a great eastern ocean. Without the Guide, they would never have completed their journey; they would have found their deaths on the ocean floor."
As Simra spoke, Lakhoni let his thoughts wander, enjoying her voice. He wished he knew how close Simra's village was to Lemalihah. If he could speak, he would be able to ask. He could also get directions and continue his journey.
"When they arrived at their land of promise and plenty, the two younger brothers deceived many of their friends with empty promises and lies, and led them in attacking the older brothers and their families. The older brothers knew they had to protect their families, so they fled southward. Thus, the land north is that of the Usurpers—the unlawful rulers—and the land south is the land of the true First Fathers."
I have to get better. My voice has to come back. But even if it took him a long time to get his voice back, he could not spend his days on his back anymore. He had to be up and working and practicing the skills that Gimno had taught him.
"The wondrous Guide fell into the hands of the Usurpers, but it is said that their unrighteousness was so great that the Great Spirit withdrew this gift from them. Our people know that when the time comes, the Great Spirit will restore the Guide to us and will lead us to reclaim our rightful, choice land in the north, driving the Usurpers into the sea."
I hadn't realized it, but the Bonaha said something like that when he killed that boy. Maybe the Separated aren't so different from the rest of us.
"But for now, there are two peoples: the Usurpers and the people of Lemal. Each of our kings has taken the name of the oldest brother to show him honor- and so we remain the people of Lemal."
No, the people of Lemal don't practice human sacrifice.
He stopped, realizing what he had just told himself. But is murder any better?
Of course not.
Lakhoni suddenly felt completely alone. His family and village were dead; murdered by a king who was descended from an original ruler who had been righteous. Lemal does not honor the First Fathers with his murders. He felt that he knew why the Separated felt they had been wronged. He also knew that justice had to be served, but he could never truly be one of the Living Dead.
He realized he could not be one of the people of Lemal any longer. He had no people and no place to call home.
The silence in the hut made him realize that Simra had stopped speaking some time ago.
"You suddenly look very sad," she said.
The kindness in her voice and the concern he saw in her face softened something inside of him. He clenched his jaw, clamping down tightly on the flood of emotion that suddenly welled up. He tried not to meet her eyes, but he felt drawn to them.
Simra stared intently at him. Her deep brown eyes, flecked with green, caught his and held them. Lakhoni's heart suddenly began pummeling his chest and he had to fight hard to control a breath that caught in his throat. Warmth touched his right hand. He glanced down. Both of her strong hands encircled his hand. He met her gaze again.
"You will get better. Your voice will come back." Simra's chest rose gently as she took a deep, slow breath.
His mind suddenly blank, his heart still pounding, Lakhoni felt his control ebbing. He clenched her hands, not wanting to tear his eyes from her face.
"And when you get better, I hope you will tell me...," she looked down.
Long moments of silence passed. The heat of her hand was like a heavy cloak, or of hot coals in the middle of a chilly night. He squeezed her hand, wishing she would finish her sentence.
Without looking at him again, Simra set his hand down onto the blanket. She rose gracefully and leaned down to pick up the soup bowl. Before she turned to leave, her voice came quietly.
"Your name. I would like to know your name."
The door closed quietly behind her, a draft causing the small fire to twist and dance.